Английская версия сайта

Tamara Kryukova





Translated from the Russian by Eugenius



Chapter 1



The late June morning painted the earth in bright Cézanne strokes. The day promised to be hot, the air was gradually being filled with torrid heat, but the real scorching heat has not come yet. The tin roof of the garden apartment has not yet become heated, and it was fresh in the garret. The trash, which was dumped here, persistently reeked with dust. Old things were moved here from the city apartment waiting for the best of times when they would be needed, but nevertheless they remained unclaimed and were covered with wrinkles of the spider’s web, but somewhere within the depths of the broken mechanisms and in the wadding souls of the overcoats which had already become bygone, there still was a glimmer of hope, that they would become necessary someday; how lucky is the squeezed sofa with squeaky springs, which impressively leaned against the wall near the garret window. The space around it was clear and homelike; this made it stand out from the other ramshackle furniture, which was accumulated here. It had a master – a being who is sacred to particular thing, who can elevate it above the odds and ends and give it an exulted name – a “thing”.

Kostya has long ago chosen a corner in the garret, where nobody prohibited him to read till midnight, kept order and told him, that each thing should have its own place. Near the sofa, the great-grandmother’s cabinet perched itself, and the books, comics, a heap of cassettes and details of the disassembled radio engineering and a weather-beaten tape recorder were heaped upon it. A juice box, where the bits and wrappers were dumped, was standing on the floor but this did not bring discord into the general furniture of the garret and was well blended with the atmosphere of recklessness, which reigned here.

Kostya had been sticking around his look-out station for a solid hour having fastened his gaze on a garret window waiting for Verka to appear from the neighboring house. It was not because he has liked Verka for a long time. She was older, and earlier Kostya considered her to be a plump girl, but all the things changed in this summer season.

When Kostya had arrived to his dacha, Verka measured him with her estimating eye and exclaimed,

- Well, you’ve grown really tall during the winter! Even taller than me. Do you have a girlfriend? I’ll retake you.

She winked in a flirtatious manner and went into her house with laughter. Kostya felt, that his face was flooded with a smarting wave of confusion. Never before did a girl flaunt with him so openly. Today he was kind of enlightened – and there was nothing surprising. Verka demonstrated her merits so openly, that only a blind man could miss them. The length of her skirts was beyond praise, and the deep low necks of her dresses told about the fullness of her generous nature without beating around the bush. Of course, to Kostya’s taste his neighbor was a little bit plump, but on the other hand last year she was said to have kissed everyone. It is a shame to say, but this circumstance played not the last role among the reasons of Kostya’s infatuation.

Kostya tried to catch Verka’s eye more often, but here he inopportunely faced the student Stas to be an obstacle. And what did Verka find in this old man? He is already around twenty or even twenty-one. If only he had an opportunity to speak to her one on one! But Verka all the day rolled in a chaise longue, which stood in the garden, where her mother pottered about; and in the evenings she walked with Stas. However, infatuation has no limits. Kostya noticed that recently Verka became a frequent visitor to the forest to pick up some mushrooms and understood that it was his only chance.

The morning was gradually turning into an afternoon. The sun crept up and generously poured out the streams of light to the garden, which looked like a patchwork quilt, woven of the rectangles of different tints of green – from shrill bright to dark with wine red tint Bordeaux.

Kostya thought with disappointment that he had spent so much time waiting in vain, and here Verka appeared on the porch with a basket in her hands. She went around the house and disappeared round the corner. It’s time! Kostya went headlong down the steep staircase.

- Ma, I’ll pick some mushrooms, - he reported, running.

-Take a basket at least. Are you going to put them in your pockets? – Zoya Petrovna shook her head.

At that time Kostya thought least of all about the mushrooms.

I’ll put them into the bag! – He shouted to get rid and, not spending his time in vain, hurried up outside.

The forest began to grow behind the trench, which was overgrown with the palisade of the birch forest, which was as thin as small twigs. Verka bore herself in the street, slightly rocking with her thighs, tightened in the pants, which were so tight, that is was a mystery how she could get into them. Kostya caught up with her near the small bridge, which was covered with the brushwood of the pink cones of the willow herb.

- Hey, are you going to pick some mushrooms? - He asked with an artificial surprise. – What a coincidence! I’ve decided to pick some too.

-Where will you put them, you, lousy mushroomer? – Verka grumbled, having measured Kostya with a mocking eye. She did not share Kostya’s joy of the meeting, judging by her tone.

“My Mom was right. It was a mistake with the basket,” – Kostya thought to himself, but then he offered without confusion:

- Let’s put the mushrooms into your basket. I know some mushroom places. There’re only cepes in one of such places. I’ll show you, - Kostya promised generously, as he was ready to put the most concealed thoughts to the feet of his chosen one.

However, the lady-love undoubtedly did not gain an appreciation of his noble impulse.

- Be off! I like to pick up mushrooms without assistants, - she murmured. The boards have respectfully caved in and sighed under her stalk. Maybe, Kostya would rather turn back and go home after such an icy reception, but he decided not to abandon. Having run across the plank footways after Verka, he rounded the elder bush and… stumbled on Stas.

- Are you with a company today? – Stas asked Verka with displeasure.

- Are you jealous? – She laughed flirtatiously.

- Why? I can leave you one on one. Stas turned back to leave. And Verka dashed after him.

- What are you doing? That’s a joke.
- I have a poor sense of humor. I don’t understand jokes, - Stas snapped out.

A quarrel was boiling up. Kostya did not resist adding oil to the fire and put in his weighty utterance:

- Good riddance, if he’s so touchy.

Keep off the adult business! – Verka shouted at him angrily.

Kostya stopped short. The offense approached the throat like a lump. Kostya screwed up his eyes in an angry manner in order to not let it out.

- An adult, you say! Only a year older. Graduate from school first, - he snarled.

It seemed that Verka did not hear his words. She ran after Stas whimpering mournfully:

- Do you think I dragged him? Honestly, he tagged after me. I tried to drive him away. Am I crazy to take up with him?

Kostya turned and went away in prompt steps without waiting for the scene of happy reconciliation.

The mushroomers hallooed to each other not far away. The thought of running into people made Kostya sick. He wanted to stay alone. He abruptly turned from the path and began to make his way through the bushes somewhat farther from the voice up hill and down dale.

The dry branches cracked in anguish under the soles of the sneakers. The crash of the breaking boughs stirred up the hazy feeling of satisfaction in Kostya’s heart, and he deliberately made his way through the wind-fallen trees without looking for an easy way.

Suddenly he approached the glade and stopped, having realized that he had wandered to an unknown place. In the middle of the glade grew a gigantic silver birch, a real original mother of the forest. Its enormously thick trunk, which was two girths thick, hardly looked like that of a silver birch. The bark had long ago lost the virgin whiteness and became black and gnarled because of years and misfortunes endured.

Kostya approached the silver birch, sat on the grass and leaned against the warm and rough trunk. Having hidden his face in his lap, he closed his eyes, and the thoughts about Verka instantly ran through his head like an annoying swarm. The stifling wave of offense came over him.

- Verka isn’t so pretty. She has plump thighs. And her eyes are bulging, - Kostya said aloud with heat, convincing himself to forget Verka and his indignity, however he did not feel any relief.

The sound of his own voice excited him even stronger. Kostya looked around the glade, looking for something to take it out on. The forest generously offered simple sweets, but Kostya was blind to see the beauty. Refracted through the prism of the bad mood, the world turned into the faceless green haze, on whose background the family of the fly agarics stood out like a scarlet stain, proudly displaying their flamboyant beauty.

- Why are you goggling?! It’d be better if I fell in love with the first one who comes along! – Kostya shouted crossly, just as if the mushrooms objected or were the cause of his misfortune.

“The first one who comes along… comes along…” – the forest replied.

Kostya trembled and looked around, but having understood that it was just an echo, looked at the fly agarics angrily. He absent-mindedly found a cone on the ground just by feeling and threw it to the biggest mushroom with all his might. Having overshot the target, the cone plopped down far behind. This excited Kostya even stronger. He took a handful of cones and began to maliciously shoot the fly agarics, which happened to be there in the heat of the moment. The cap fell off the father of the family. The small fly agarics clung to the beheaded stem, and the merciless artillery of the cones continued the shooting, crashing down all around and turning the beauty into the medley.

Suddenly a ringing halloo resounded,

- Hey! Why do you let loose with your fists?

There was no one nearby. It seemed to Kostya for a moment that an unclear silhouette glimpsed among the leaves which grew not far away. He looked hard and saw the sky, which was washed in the crown of the tree, and green necklaces of the leaves rippled and trembled, creating an illusion of movement. Kostya looked around perplexedly for some time, but has not found anyone, and his wrath passed away completely. Kostya cast a cone, which was squeezed in his fist not aiming deliberately, but rather amain, to the small fly agarics, which came off unhurt.

- Are you deaf? What if the same thing happened to you? – He heard again.

Something whistled and hit against the trunk of the tree. Kostya looked back, and what he saw sent shivers down his spine. Right above his head an arrow stuck out the gnarled birch bark; it was not fake, though, to the contrary, it was real, with a metal head. Having observed the trajectory of the arrow, Kostya slowly shifted his gaze to the aspen, and at this time he saw a girl in the greenish specks of the shivering leaves. Having saddled the bough, she aimed a bow at him.

- Are you mad? – Kostya screamed in an altered voice and hid behind the tree with a speed, high enough to be recorded in a book of records.

- Okay, go out, I won’t harm you, -the girl began to laugh loudly.

The archer came down with the sleight of a monkey, and then she drooped on a bough, and having let her hands come away, jumped to the ground. She looked of the same age as Kostya. She was just an ordinary girl: grey eyes, snub nose, covered with freckles and curly hair of the color of the May honey, which was all over the place. However, she was dressed in a pretty strange manner for a forest promenade: she was barefoot and had a variegated yellow and green dress on, which was unnoticeable among the leaves. First of all, the girl took the arrow out of the birch tree and stroked the wound on the bark muttering something under her breath, and then came to the fly agarics and, having squatted, shook her head:

- Oh, oh, you’ve messed it up. Why in this world are you so angry?

Kostya looked at her apprehensively and a thought was running in his head:

“She’s a schizo! Jumps like a kangaroo. All loonies are said to be strong. Who knows, what’s in her mind?”

- Fear not, - the girl said and smiled.

Her face was wonderfully transformed. In her eyes jumped mischievous sparks, and a dimple appeared on her cheek. No, she did not look like a madwoman. The lost bravery returned to Kostya gradually, and with it the righteous indignation boiled up.

- Do you understand what you’re doing? You nearly killed a man, you hysterical Robin Hood!

- Oh, what makes you think that? – The girl lifted her hands. – I didn’t aim at you. I just wanted to stop the evil. Don’t get mad, offense is a poor friend.

- Didn’t aim, - Kostya mimicked her. What if the arrow had flown lower?

The girl laughed rippingly as if Kostya had told a funny joke.

- Why should it fly lower, if I didn’t aim lower?

- Even if you shot an apple, you’d of course always drive the nail, - Kostya kidded the stranger.

- Where have you seen apples on a birch tree? Maybe, you’ll attempt to make it, that apples will grow on a birch tree. In order to achieve it, your soul should ask for a miracle!

The seriousness of her tone could hardly give a clue whether she joked, or she was a bit hard up for humor and interpreted everything literally.

- Hey, where are you from? I haven’t seen you in the holiday village, - Kostya said.

- I’m not from the village, I’m from the forest.

- Oh… I see, - Kostya murmured.

Now everything fell into place. It is the forester’s daughter. It is nothing surprising that she knows the forest the way one knows the back of one’s hand, shoots and crawls the trees no worse than a boy.

- You’re keen at coping with the bow. Can you teach me?

- I can’t. What if you begin to shoot squirrels and birds?

- Am I a brute? – Kostya said exasperatedly.

- Why then you have knocked down the fly agarics? – The girl reminded him, having looked at him askance.

- It was just foolishness.

He turned his eyes away. Earlier, Kostya many times knocked down the inedible mushrooms but now for some reason, he was ashamed. It was strange, but he did not ponder, why did this stranger need a bow, if not for hunting.

- Okay, let bygones be bygones… Let’s go, I’ll show you my bilberry glade, - the girl offered and swiftly slipped past the thicket of the bushes and beckoned Kostya.

Lightly, just like a rustle of the wind, which got lost in the leaves, she maneuvered between the overgrown bushes and hanging branches of the trees. The forest parted before her. The bare feet stepped confidently, and she noticed neither prickles nor knots. Her green dress blended with the luxuriant verdure of the late June. Kostya followed her, having concentrated on his guide’s golden head of hair, which glimpsed between the branches like a sunny stain. Suddenly, he lost her out of the sight and stopped distractedly.

- Here we are, - he heard.

Kostya came at the call and found himself on a hardly noticeable path which led to the small forest swamp, which was grown with sedge. On knolls-the-islets, the birches were placed in groups on some spots and in some spots one by one. The wind pulled around the golden and green lace of the crowns, and the trees swayed as if dancing in a circle.

The new acquaintance sat on a fallen birch, which was covered with luxurious velvet of the moss. The thickets of bilberry were spread all around, like a curly carpet. The dark-violet splashes of the berries strew the gentle matt blue greenness of the leaves.

- Holy cow! – Kostya whistled when he saw such abundance.

- Do you like it? This is my glade. In fact, I don’t show it to the first one who comes along, - the girl smirked.

The almost tangible words hung in the midair.

“The first one who comes along… Has she really heard it? That’s silly!” Kostya suddenly recalled Verka. Now the morning incident seemed to be trivial and not worth the attention.

The new acquaintance turned her derisive look away from Kostya, jumped down from the birch and squatted. Not a little bit of those alluring promises, which excite the youthful dreams, like those of Verka, were hidden in her. Her adolescent body was scrawny and angular. The perfect Sculptor, the Nature, was yet supposed to work in order to shape the lines rounded and womanlike. She was not the type of girls all the boys make a beeline for.

The girl gathered a handful of berries and sent them to her mouth. Kostya wanted to follow her example, but the berries on the nearest bushes were not yet ripe.

- Remember this place. You’ll come here again, when the berries have ripened, - the girl burst out laughing.

- Aha, a crane and a vixen, - Kostya smiled having recalled the famous fable.

Pardon? – She asked again.

- Never mind. What is your name?

- Nika, and yours?

- Kostya. And what is the full name of Nika? Veronica, right? – He inquired just to be polite.

- No, it’s… - the girl looked at the berries and declared: - Nika means Chernika, the Russian name of bilberry.

- Aha, nice to meet you, and I’m hawthorn, - Kostya smiled.

Nika stared at him inquiringly.

- You said you’re Kostya.

- Are you a dunce? Don’t you understand jokes? Of course, Kostya. And you aren’t bilberry.

- Maybe not, - Nika smiled. I am in a bilberry mood today, hence I’m Chernika. You know, Nika is a very convenient name, it can mean anything.

- How? – Kostya asked.

- Well, if I’m in a wild strawberry mood, I’ll become Zemlya-Nika. Or Broos-Nika, the cowberry. Or, for example… - She suddenly fell into silence and stared at Kostya as if she saw him for the first time. – Hey, maybe you are right. I am not Chernika. Now I know my name exactly!

- What’s your name then?

- Kostyanika, the Bramble! - Nika reported excitedly. Her cheeks glowed, and her eyes sparkled as if she had made a great discovery. Kostya and Nika, you see, become Kostya-Nika.

- Wonderful! I won’t get bored with you! – Kostya exclaimed.

He would never have thought that their names compose a single word.

Talking with each other they returned to that very glade, where they had met, and sat under the birch. Kostya did not usually find topics to talk with girls, but Nika was none of his mincing classmates, who pose themselves as adults. It was easy to talk to her, maybe, because she lived in the forest. Kostya recalled her words about “the first one who comes along” from time to time, and the question whether she had heard it or not, stung him again and again. What a fool he was to blurt out such nonsense!

Nika talked about the habits of the forest beasts. Kostya listened to her talk, having closed his eyes a bit and he did not notice that he fell into a doze. The sun had been high above the forest, when Kostya woke up. He opened his eyes. The foliage raged all around. There was no girl nearby. It was impossible to discern a green-yellow dress or a sunny stain of the hair in the mixture of all the tints of greenery.

Now this meeting seemed to be unreal. “Maybe, it was a dream?” – Kostya thought. On the other hand, he saw her so clearly, and they went to the bilberry glade together. Dreams cannot be so real. Having decided, that he will by all means try to find this girl Kostya got up and went home.

Тамара Крюкова.
Тамара Крюкова.
Тамара Крюкова.
Тамара Крюкова.
Тамара Крюкова.
Тамара Крюкова.
Тамара Крюкова.
Тамара Крюкова.
Тамара Крюкова.
Тамара Крюкова.
Тамара Крюкова.
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